Angels add Dylan Bundy and Post Hype Upside

The Angels have been rumored all off season to go after the pitching phenom who was picked at the top of the 2011 draft class. Scouts dreamed on his upper 90’s fastball, 3 plus off speed pitches, and his ability to quickly accelerate into the majors. This description brings to mind the still free agent Gerrit Cole but it is also true of the newest Angel: Dylan Bundy.

Bundy’s elite velocity and prospect pedigree faded with the injuries that stalled his career from 2013-2016. But over the last three years he has re-emerged as a league average starter despite a fastball that now sits in the low 90’s. Bundy is not the final piece of the offseason for the Angels but they, more than any other team in baseball, need bulk innings from their starters. For very little prospect capital (4 high variance pitching prospects) the Angels have covered some of those innings and maybe even found something.

Dylan Bundy

Age in 2020 – 27
Throws – Right handed
2019 final results – 160 IP, 2.5 war, 4.79 era
2020 projection – 180 IP, 2.0 war, 5.11 era

Although Bundy may not be the elite hurler he once was there is still a lot to like about what he brings to the table. The key lies with his pitch mix:

Sitting around 92 mph Bundy’s fastball is now a shell of what it once was. The vertical movement and spin rate on the pitch remain great but the results have been less than stellar with a .335 batting average against and a ground ball rate of only 22.7%. With a 975 OPS allowed last year Bundy makes the batter he’s facing look like George Springer when he throws them a four seam fastball. It’s an objectively terrible pitch, and it’s a pitch he’s been throwing 43% of the time. Look away:

But looking at his secondary pitches gives you an entirely different perspective. Bundy is notorious for giving up too many home runs. His fly ball tendencies however are isolated exclusively to his fastball. His other four pitches generated ground balls over 50% of the time and only 12 of his 29 home runs last year came on one of these pitches. His best pitch is his slider:

Bundy has one of the best sliders in the major leagues, generating a higher whiff/swing rate on it than pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole. Patrick Corbin has built his career on his slider and has a whiff/swing of 51.72% (just 3.85% better than Bundy). Corbin know’s the pitch is dominant so he throws it 37.72% of the time. Hitters have hit like Jeff Mathis off of Bundy’s slider but unlike Corbin he only throws it 23% of the time. Next up is the change:

In addition to his slider he has an above average change up and curveball in terms of generating ground balls as well as swing and miss. His change up tunnels perfectly with his sinker so there’s no reason to believe he cannot continue to lean on it. Lastly we’ll look at his sinker:

Sinkers may no longer be in fashion but Bundy has gotten good results with his over the last two years. He only throws the pitch 7-8% of the time so we can’t know how effective it actually is considering the sample but could it really be worse than the four seam?

Bundy is already useful the way he is. But what would happen if he optimized his pitch mix similar to how Corbin did in 2018? First we’ll look at the runs above/below average he threw per 100 pitches in 2019:

If we sum up Bundy’s 2019 pitches the end results were -5.53 runs below average. That’s not bad, it puts him right around useful 2 war innings eaters like Tanner Roark and Kyle Gibson. But if we change his pitch mix to utilize his strengths it might look something like this:

This undoubtedly would be a drastic change. The biggest shift would come from decreasing his four seam usage (-28%) and replacing it with an increase in his sinker usage (+23%) as well as an increase his slider usage (+7%). Utilizing this new pitch mix puts him at 19.14 runs above average. Such a large shift makes his 2019 appear entirely different and he suddenly compares to solid 4 war pitchers like Jake Odorizzi and James Paxton. That’s nearly one era lower than he was at last year and about 2 wins more valuable.

Now this is not a scientific process obviously as changing pitch mixes is sure to have an impact on all of his pitch values. Perhaps using his four seamer less will make his slider worse or maybe his sinker will regress once it gets more exposure. Even then, if such a drastic shift isn’t feasible incremental changes, such as adding +7% usage to his slider and -7% to his four seam, would be enough to make him 3 war player.

And don’t forget this isn’t some big free agent. We’re talking about a pitcher who’s only making about $6MM dollars next year and who cost very little in prospect capital to acquire. Dylan Bundy is at worst a guy who can eat some innings. And who knows? Maybe a tweak or two is all it would take for him to regain some of the shine that made scouts go wild in 2011.

Acknowledgements:

Data and media content courtesy of Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Savant.

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